Something really bad happened the other day, but I don’t want to talk about it. Just thank your lucky starts that the man did not put a hit on you.
[ELVIS MAO]: My name is Elvis Mao. I am the head of engineering. I really appreciate you coming here on such short notice. We are excited to interview you. Based upon your qualifications, you look like a perfect fit for this test development position.
[JOHNNY]: That’s wonderful to hear.
[ELVIS MAO]: I can’t tell you what the company does until you sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Unfortunately, we ran out of forms. Pam, our office administrator, is at Kinko’s right now making more copies. She should be back in an hour or so. We can do one of two things. We can postpone this interview or we can just start now and when Pam returns we can fill you in with the details about our company.
[JOHNNY]: Since I am already here, why don’t we just start with the interview?
[ELVIS MAO]: Great. Let’s begin. I am going to take notes if you don’t mind.
[JOHNNY]: Please do.
The manager picks up a pencil and holds it in front of Johnny’s face.
[ELVIS MAO]: What am I holding?
[JOHNNY]: A pencil.
[ELVIS MAO]: Yes. How would you test this pencil?
Johnny knew this question all too well. It’s the proverbial “How would you test this thingy” question. Sometimes the thingy would be a soda can. Sometimes it would be a pair of sunglasses. Once an interviewer took off his shoes and asked Johnny how he would validate them with and without the laces. The purpose of these kinds of questions is to see if the interviewee can think like a real tester on his feet even for simple, uninteresting subjects such as pencils and shoes. Johnny was a pro at this kind of questioning. He would never start with test cases, like most rookies. Instead, he would begin with a test plan.
[JOHNNY]: First, I would gather requirements for a test plan.
[ELVIS MAO]: Good thinking. What would you put in that test plan?
[JOHNNY]: If your company has a template, then I would organize the test plan according to that template.
[ELVIS MAO]: What if we don’t have test plan template. How would you make your own test plan?
[JOHNNY]: I wouldn’t make my own test plan.
[ELVIS MAO]: You wouldn’t? Why not?
[JOHNNY]: I would rather leverage the IEEE test plan template. Why reinvent the wheel? By doing this, I would save your company time and money.
[ELVIS MAO]: That’s efficient. Then describe to me in as much detail possible the IEEE test plan template.
[JOHNNY]: It would contain an introduction, test items, software risk issues, features to be tested, pass and fail criteria…
For the next hour, Johnny thoroughly described the IEEE plan. He knew it by heart. Elvis Mao kept careful notes of Johnny’s comments.
[ELVIS MAO]: Well, I think we exhausted the test plan question. Now, let’s go back to my original question. How would you test this pencil?
At this point, Johnny knew that he had to come up with an endless supply of test cases. A rookie would run out of ideas rather quickly, but Johnny could go on forever.
[JOHNNY]: I would test the pencil to see if it writes. If the pencil has an eraser, then I would test that eraser. I would stress test the pencil. I would sharpen it with an electric sharpener, a hand sharpener, and with a dull knife. I would write on all kinds of surfaces, hard, soft, wet, dry, rough, smooth, etc. I would look for safety defects. I would search for misspellings on the label. I would …
For the next hour or so, Johnny lists hundreds of test cases. Elvis Mao fills two notebook tablets with all the things Johnny talked about. Just then, Pam, the administrative assistant, walks in with a NDA form for Johnny to sign.
[ELVIS MAO]: Thanks, Pam. Johnny please initial here, here, and here and sign your name over there.
Johnny signs the NDA.
[ELVIS MAO]: Johnny, I first want to say how impressed I am with your expertise in testing. As the head of engineering, I have worked with many testers over the years. I can honestly say though that I have never meant anyone as knowledgeable as you are in the fields of quality assurance and testing.
[JOHNNY]: I am pleased to hear that.
[ELVIS MAO]: Now that you have signed the NDA, I can tell you what we do, but I think you already know.
[JOHNNY]: Know what?
[ELVIS MAO]: What we do.
[JOHNNY]: No. I don’t.
[ELVIS MAO]: Well, you have been talking about it for the past few hours.
[ELVIS MAO]: That’s right. We are a pencil design and manufacturing company.
[ELVIS MAO]: Yes, we like to think of ourselves as the Nike of Pencils. “Just Doodle It”. Clever?
[JOHNNY]: Yes, clever. So do I get the job?
[ELVIS MAO]: Normally, I would say yes, but you did such a wonderful job during the interview that I no longer need a tester. I have a complete test plan already. It’s the notes that I took during our interview.
[INTERVIEWER]: Good afternoon, Dr. Princeton.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Good afternoon.
[INTERVIEWER]: You are applying for the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University. I am assuming that you know the brilliant theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking retired from the chair last week and that is why you are here today.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Yes. It’s an honor to be considered for this prestigious position.
[INTERVIEWER]: Let’s first take a look at your curriculum vitae. I see here that you were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics five years ago and another Nobel Prize two years later in medicine. Is that right?
[DR. PRINCETON]: Yes, my hope is that millions of lives will be saved by my efforts to cure cancer by using quantum nanotechnology as a means for progressive DNA testing.
[INTERVIEWER]: I also see that you are a holder of well over a thousand patents. Describe some of these patents?
[DR. PRINCETON]: Most of them are widely used applications in science and engineering. To be honest, I can’t keep track of them all anymore.
[INTERVIEWER]: You’ve also authored twenty-nine international best sellers, including highly acclaimed works in fiction, non-fiction, and even children’s novels and cooking books.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Yes, I love to write about many different kinds of subjects.
[INTERVIEWER]: You are the recipient of the National Medal of Science, Humboldt Research Award, and the Priestley Medal in Chemistry.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Correct. I have always been a big fan of Jason Priestley.
[INTERVIEWER]: You are fluent in nineteen languages, two of which are ancient and dead. You hold three doctoral degrees in medicine, law, and theology. You like to build houses for poor people. Sir, you are a truly remarkable person.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Thank you very much.
[INTERVIEWER]: You know, Dr. Princeton, as I go through your curriculum vitae, I can’t see anyone more qualified than you for this honorable chairmanship.
[DR. PRINCETON]: Thank you. That’s quite encouraging to know.
[INTERVIEWER]: I even read here that in high school you worked as an intern at the esteemed Mayo clinic. Is this correct?
[DR. PRINCETON]: Yes, but that was a very long time ago.
[INTERVIEWER]: What did you do there?
[DR. PRINCETON]: I was a QA tester for their website. Some simple HTML validation work. Nothing fancy…
[INTERVIEWER]: A QA tester testing HTML?
[DR. PRINCETON]: Yes.
[INTERVIEWER]: Well that changes everything.
[DR. PRINCETON]: What do you mean?
[INTERVIEWER]: Dr. Princeton, I don’t know if you are cognizant of this fact, but we have two positions open here at Cambridge. The first position is the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics, the one that you are applying for here today. The second position is for a QA HTML tester for the university’s renowned cafeteria lunch menu website.
[DR. PRINCETON]: You want me to test web pages?
[INTERVIEWER]: Yes, that’s correct.
[DR. PRINCETON]: That’s absurd. After all of my education, accomplishments, and awards, you still want me to be a tester?
[INTERVIEWER]: Yes. Dr. Princeton, there are only two simple truths in this world. The first truth is that all who live die. The second truth is that all who test will be condemned to test forever. It was Sir Isaac Newton who postulated these immortal words. I will see you in the cafeteria on Monday. Don’t forget to wear your name tag. It’s creamy tuna on toast day.
Mr. Nelson is a jack of all trades tester. A salty dog, I guess. He has been working off and on for the company since 1805. His first project was code named “Trafalgar”. It was so successful that Mr. Nelson was promoted to the rank of grade 12 in the company, probably one of the youngest ever to reach such a high position at that time. After the promotion, some people began calling him the Admiral or Lord out of deference. For those who knew him beforehand though, they simply called him Horatio. For this story, we will call him the Admiral. One day in the test lab, the Admiral saw a junior tester curled up in a fetal position under a test bench. The tester was rocking back and forth on the floor, or as the Admiral would say, “yawing to and fro about the deck”. The tester was in tears.
[ADMIRAL]: What’s wrong, Testmate?
[TESTER]: The developers always treat me like a bilge rat.
The Admiral starts to laugh.
[ADMIRAL]: Well son, that’s because you are bilge rat—you’re a bloody contract worker.
[TESTER]: No Sir, I mean that they think that my work as a tester is beneath them or something.
[ADMIRAL]: Hmmm. I see.
[TESTER]: I try to do my best. I really do, Sir, but every time I find a bug they make me feel like I don’t know what I am talking about. The Admiral thinks for a moment then grabs the tester by his thong.
[ADMIRAL]: Brace up, Lad. For years, I had to put up with those scallywags too. I was treated like some pegboy tied to the bulkhead in the goat locker. Whenever those scurvy developers needed a scapegoat, they dropped anchor on me, if you get my meaning. Many a time I got the dreaded cat o’ nine tails administered to me even when I didn’t ask for it.
[TESTER]: What did you do, Sir?
[ADMIRAL]: I decided to go on the account.
[TESTER]: What do you mean, Sir?
[ADMIRAL]: Let me ask you a question, Testmate.
[ADMIRAL]: What are developers?
[TESTER]: People who write code, Sir?
[ADMIRAL]: No, they are swabees.
[ADMIRAL]: Janitors! Every time we find bugs in their code, we give them a swab and tell them to go clean up their filthy mess.
[TESTER]: That’s funny, Sir.
[ADMIRAL]: It is. And do you know what really chaffs their sterns?
[TESTER]: No, Sir?
[ADMIRAL]: To have a person with lesser schooling, such as yourself, point out these untidy affairs. It’s nothing personal. It’s just the way that it is. It’s what keeps us underway as testers in the deep, stinky sea of software bilge.
[TESTER]: Thank you, Sir.
[ADMIRAL]: No problem…and one other thing, Testmate.
[TESTER]: What’s that, Sir?
[ADMIRAL]: If a developer still gives you flack, then put a little saltpeter in his coffee mug for good measure.
[TESTER]: Spoken like a true sailor, Sir.